I know that I may often pray "amiss". I pray less selfish prayers than I used to, but I still wonder about some of them. That aside, do I really think that He doesn’t care about the desires of my heart concerning some matters, especially when they are present on a continual basis? Do I really think that He ignores those, or has no plan for the fulfillment of such? Should I think so little of His kindness, or so little of our relationship, that I would think such things? Jesus did not want to be separated from His Father. Of course, He probably knew that asking not to would mean the death of all of us. This didn’t keep Him from being honest in His prayer. “If You are willing, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not My will by Yours be done.” This is how I can be honest with God in my prayers where His will versus mine might be questionable. “Lord, here is the honest wish of my soul…nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.” He is big enough to handle the earnest wishes of my heart. Yet, I can posture myself in a right way by ending on, “Nevertheless…” This is a prayer that balances total honesty and total surrender. It is a perfect way to pray on such matters where our soul cries out for one thing, but we know that God may have a bigger plan (God had a big plan here :-) ).
And God answered both prayers. (They are really two prayers, you see.) He said a temporary “no” to the first. Jesus wound up drinking the cup of suffering and separation from the Father. This is the cup that belonged to us because of our sin. However, I would point out that, once Jesus was resurrected, He would never be separated from the immediate presence of His Father ever again. So, even though He got a “no” on the first one, His death and separation did not last but a proverbial minute in the grand scheme of things. This is also comforts us with the beauty of what prayer is: We are not approaching God not with incantations or manipulation to get Him to do things. We are asking an all-knowing, all-loving Father for things, knowing the He knows what is best and will do what is best…but that He also takes pleasure in granting us our requests! Even if He doesn’t answer those desires in the immediate way we might be asking for (though He often does), He does have a way of answering them in a more perfect way than we could have known to ask for later.
God answered the second prayer with a resounding “YES!” …His will was done. Though Jesus had to be separated from the Father for a moment, after that moment was over, He was eternally reunited with the Father, AND, He later emerges with pure, spotless bride to boot! God knows what is best, and He can handle all the prayers we bring to Him, and tie them all together at the end in a mixture of what is His will and our will in perfect unity. We can’t know what this looks like on the front end, but Jesus can give us the power and patience to hang on and submit to whatever the process is, so that we can experience all of His goodness in the end. In the meantime, His prayer here gives us a model for what it looks like to be both honest before God and submitted to Him simultaneously.